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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Back to NYC: La Camelia

Being a Texan, I can almost always be engaged to try a new interior Mexican restaurant.  The defunct Park Slope La Camelia has moved to the West Village under same ownership and it always had positive reviews in Brooklyn. 

The atmosphere is a little bland and what decor does exist, doesn't have any originality.  Everything seems bought from Best Buy or Home Depot.  Note: dark paint and 'mahogoney' furniture does not equal mod (see Nuela in Flatiron, they do it right).

We start with Guacamole en Molcajete.  It is 'made to order', yet not made in front of you, and served on lava rock Molacajete.  Sounds fancy, no?  It was bad.  Very bad.  I'm not shooting for Rosa Mexicana-style, but for $12, it better be pretty damn close.  This probably was made with 2-2.5 avocados, was watery and had TONS of lime.  Yuck!

Luckily, the entrees were good, but far from great and the presentation was nothing special.  Since I was completely turned off from the guac, I went the non-traditional route and ordered fish.

Guachinango (Red Snapper fillet sauteed with onions, capers, olives and fresh tomato sauce)- It was tasty, and the ingredients were there, but there was nothing harmonious about the dish.

Enchilada de Pollo Mole Poblano (rolled corn tortillas stuffed with chicken and topped with Mole Sauce)- Again, the ingredients are there, but nothing pulling them together.

Enchilada de Queso (rolled corn Tortillas stuffed with cheese and topped with a green tomatillo sauce)- definitely the binding of the dish was the best of the three, but was hoping for the tomatillo sauce to have a bit of bite.

One plus: decent chips and salsa

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Restaurante Tulhas Bar (Sintra, Portugal)

Sitting in the small town of Sintra, right below the National Palace, is Tulhas Restaurant.  This dark, tiled, Medieval restaurant was quite charming as the owner's granddaughter was jumping around shouting in Portuguese that she 'has a new baby sister!'

Aside from the croquettes I had consumed, this was the only bacalau (salted cod) dish I ate...and it was magnificent!  The bacalau was baked in a bechamel sauce with potatoes, onions and served with pao.  Rich, creamy and piping hot!  Most folks think bacalau is too salty, but this was just right.  So much so, that I suggested it to surrounding tables.  As they were closing for the late afternoon, the owner followed me outside, shook my hand and thanked me for coming to his restaurant.  It was me that should have been thanking him.

Here is some interesting history behind Tulhas:

Friday, November 18, 2011


When you want typical Korean food, you head to 32nd street.  When you want atypical Korean food, and more specifically, Korean tapas!!!!, you head to Midtown West.  Danji is a narrow, dimly lit tapas bar with communal seating up front and small tables towards the back.  I was wondering just how good the food would be after waiting 45 minutes and the answer is......well worth the wait.

Starter: Trio of Kimchi
The dish was good, but not impressive and kimchi should be good, if not great, at Korean restaurants.

Spicy yellowtail Sashimi with jalapeno and sweet & spicy chili pepper sauce.  The yellowtail melted in your mouth.  Sushi-grade quality of 15 East.

Spicy Pork Belly Sliders marinated with a hot chili pepper paste made from red chilies and fermented soybeans and scallions.  Luckily, I got both to myself.  Delicious!

Braised short ribs were dynamite.  You could cut through the meat with a fork...'beef that falls off the bone'

Skirt steak served with a sweet chili dipping sauce.  Not typically a fan of skirt steak, but this was cooked beautifully. 

Danji was a wonderful experience, particularly for a Midtown restaurant, although I did find the pricing a little high for tapas dishes.  Luckily, I was full.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Apeadeiro (Cascais, Portugal)

Outside the buzzing metropolis of Lisbon is Cascais, just one of many suburban areas surrounding the capital.  It is the furthest point on the train and the ride is a lovely stretch of coast.  The early morning weather is temps and not a cloud in the sky and once I arrive, I sit on the beach, next to the fisherman's dock.
Cascais is an old fishing town and remains so, although not as bustling as it once was.  During the early to mid-morning hours, you can catch a glimpse of the fisherman docking the tiny boats and unloading their daily catch.
After two hours on the beach, I decide it is lunchtime and head to the neighborhood behind the main beach and marina.  Avenida Vasco da Gama it is a quaint street of fisherman living in modest apartments and homes near the sea.  This restaurant gem is known for grilled fish and piri-piri (the national hot pepper) shrimp.  I decided to get grilled sea bass served with steamed vegetables and a side of sauteed mushrooms.  I turn to the tables around me and see all the locals ranging from businessmen to families have ordered grilled sardines.  Immediately I regret my decision, but then the whole, grilled fish is placed in front of me and I am no longer upset. 

The fish are grilled with salt and nothing else.  Simple.  Classic and wonderful.  My favorite meal in Portugal.  I've have grilled fish before, but never so fresh.  I've also had steamed vegetables before, but never like this.  These, of course, were steamed with salt water to bring out more flavor.

If I am ever in Lisbon again, I will be heading to Cascais for this meal again.  Maybe even with a side of sardines!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Cafe de Rala (Evora, Portugal)

There are pastelarias (pastry shops), then there is A pastry in Evora.  Evora is a small Medieval town the lies in the Alentejo region of Portugal (2 hours by bus) and the center of town is completely surrounded by a wall.  Inside that wall is Cafe da Rala.  The owner, herself, serves both the pastries and coffee to the local customers. 

The house speciality and shining star of this cafe is Pao de Rala.  It is a confectionery sin made of white pumpkin candy wrapped in almond paste encased in thin bread.  Do not pass up if you are in the area!  Other recommendation:  Chicken empanada

                              Here's a photo (top middle) of what it looks like before consumption :-)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Lisbon, Portugal

Cafe no Chiado:
Beautifully situated and decorated, next to the San Luis de Teatro, with a design of mid-century modern wood and Gothic stones. The walls are library-like with real books as well as wall lithographs with books stacked and floating all around. As expected, there is an after theatre crowd as well as the famous Tram 28 passing the front of the restaurant, yet somehow it isn't a tourist trap.
I try to keep the pao (bread) consumption to a minimum, but it proves to be difficult. This bread has a trio of butter, olive spread and what else? A bacalau spread. Instead of ordering a cod dish, I decide upon arroz con pato (duck with rice Portuguese style). I'm delighted to see it is served with a green salad, barely dressed. The duck is tender, cooked in bacon fat, but the Portuguese style rice was hard on top, soft underneath. The composition was nice, although I was not blown away. I was blown away by the chocolate mousse. It is fluffy and rich with dark chocolate chips that I eat gladly with eat bite. It was quite possibly the best chocolate mousse, or dessert for that matter, that I've ever had!

Typically, restaurants located in the largely tourist areas are mediocre, and then there’s Bonjardim.  Their specialty is spit-fired roasted chicken and it is succulent.  There’s only one other chicken I like better (ahem, Mr. Waxman).  It is served as a half or whole and is best with fritas (fries) and the best side salad I had in Portugal.
Travessa de Santo Antão 11 Lisbon +213 427 424

Kaffee Haus:
I just had to have a salad one evening, so I hit an Austrian café in the Chiado.  Just mixed greens, pine nuts and a terrine of cheese.  Light, high cheese quality and a killer vinaigrette.  No English menus.
Rua Anchieta 3 Lisbon

Café de Sao Bento:
Quiet, like a private club, with dark red and mahogany walls and red velvet chairs, where Parliament members come to dine.  The Portuguese steak arrives piping hot and as the waiter suggested medium-well. Much to my surprise, it isn’t chewy, but tender and red through the middle.  He says, ‘It’s not Argentinean meat, but it’s good’.  I beg to differ!  This beef cooked in olive oil, garlic; laurel (of the bay leaf family) has very interesting flavor.

The cheesecake….made in house.  I have my doubts. I mean, I’m a New Yorker!  Home of Italian Americans and traveler of Italy.  It arrives.  It IS made in house unlike American ricotta cheesecake where it is difficult to tell the ricotta from the sugar.  This is tasty, fluffy ricotta.  Impressive.
Rua de São Bento 212  1200 Lisbon
(Many thanks to Antonio of Cafe de Sao Bento for providing photos for this piece)

Thursday, October 20, 2011


For a consistently good sandwich, try Sanpanino in the West Village.  Although they have other bread to choose from, you have to go with the uber-thick slices of focaccia.  I had the San Classico (sopressata, mortadella, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, fresh basil, olive oil, and balsamic) grilled and could taste every single ingredient.  It also happens to be filling, so my $7.95 went a long way...half for lunch and half as an afternoon snack.

A Fork in the Road: Cafe no Chiado (Lisbon, Portugal)

Cafe no Chiado is beautifully situated and decorated, next to the San Luis de Teatro, with a design of mid-century modern wood and Gothic stones.  The walls are library-like with real books as well as wall lithographs with books stacked and floating all around.  As expected, there is an after theatre crowd as well as the famous Tram 28 passing the front of the restaurant, yet somehow it isn't a tourist trap.

I try to keep the pao (bread) consumption to a minimum, but it proves to be difficult.  This bread has a trio of butter, olive spread and what else?  A bacalau spread.  Instead of ordering a cod dish, I decide upon arroz con pato (duck with rice Portuguese style).  I'm delighted to see it is served with a green salad, barely dressed.  The duck is tender, cooked in bacon fat, but the Portuguese style rice was hard on top, soft underneath.  The composition was nice, although I was not blown away.  I was blown away by the chocolate mousse.  It is fluffy and rich with dark chocolate chips that I eat gladly with eat bite.  It was quite possibly the best chocolate mousse, or dessert for that matter, that I've ever had!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Chance to Win a 27-course dinner at Masa

Click this link for a chance to win!
Spread the word, increase your chances!

A Fork in the Road: Clyde Cooper's BBQ (Raleigh, NC)

Cooper's  is separated out with booths on each side, a soda fountain bar, high ceilings with fans and nostalgic photos dating back to its 1938 opening.  If you are driving by, you can catch a glimpse of the pitmasters manning the pits in the alleyway next to the restaurant.  There's nothing unoriginal about Clyde's.

Cooper's serves up traditional Carolina pulled pork (usually) marinated in a vinegar sauce.  Growing up and traveling to NC to visit, my grandma would always make 'bbq chicken'.  Though it was fabulous, I never understood why it was called bbq.  Being from Texas, our BBQ is mostly beef brisket with dark sauces.

Served up quickly was my pulled pork/chicken combo platter and my mouth was happy just looking at it.  I couldn't wait to dig in ~ this was definitely going to fill me up before our long drive!  The waiter nicely suggested of ordering dark meat chicken instead of the white I intended to order.  Both meats were so moist and full of flavor.  As usual, most Carolina bbq joints have a plentiful amount of sauces on the table to choose from , including their very own heavy bbq sauce.  I think this moist speciality is best untouched. 
Now I'm a cole slaw and potato salad gal and I like 'um sweet!  The potato salad  is a mustard/relish base and the slaw is made with mayo and what else?  Vinegar.  As if this wasn't enough food, the platter also come with hush puppies deep fried perfectly.  It was cute watching my grandma eating the fried part and leaving the cornmeal.  Pig skins are also an addition and also not my favorite. 

The thought of skins is gross, but a nibble here and there adds a nice crispy bite.  Coopers also sells ziplocked bags of regular, medium and hot skins if you are feeling a super unhealthy snack.

All this and a sweet iced tea for ten bucks, great service and smiles all around!

Clyde Cooper's  109 East Davie Street (919) 832-7614 

Open Mon-Sat 10am-6pm

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Buffalo Grille Woodway (Houston, TX)

I've been eating here for years.  It's a loud, family-oriented breakfast joint in Houston with two locations (Woodway and Wesleyan Plaza), but the breakfast rocks! 
Usually I stick to a regular breakfast of eggs, peppered bacon (a Buffalo Grille speciality), grits and biscuit. 
Buffalo Grille has a buffet of condiments and can choose between Cinnamon/Columbian/House coffees and then there's the condiments...mustards, jellies, jams, hot syrup, any bottled hot sauce under the sun and a huge bowl of Pace Picante.  My favorite for eggs and grits! 

If you like BIG breakfast burritos, you get:

Huevos Burrito – 2 scrambled eggs, sausage & REFRIED beans wrapped in a flour tortilla with cheese and green (tomatillo) chili sauce
As I walked past people's tables with hashbrowns and they were 'diner-style' shredded, I got excited to order a side.  They weren't disappointing, but weren't what was wanted.  I like 'diner-style' super crispy shredded and these are just shredded and cooked.

Buffalo Grille Woodway  1301 S. Voss (713) 784-FOOD

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Fork in the Road: Baby Barnaby's (Houston, TX)

Baby Barnaby's sits in the northern part of Houston's Montrose area and is favorite among breakfast-loving Houstonians.  Houston isn't huge on their brunch scene, but they know breakfast and Mexican breakfast well! 

It is a warm reception from the staff given most have worked there for years and this menu is what you want.  Not a million options, just a one-pager so they make sure all their items are appetizing. Get there early on the weekend as the wait can be over an hour!

Breakfast Plate - two eggs over easy, grits, smoked sausage and biscuits (with a few of my potatoes)

Green Eggs* - Two eggs scrambled with spinach, artichoke hearts and jack cheese, served with chicken apple sausage, potatoes, and wheat toast.  Some folks order soft eggs and it's never really something I've taken to, but because of the ingredients, it takes like soft eggs, except everything well done.  It's something you just have to experience.  The potatoes are (hollow) squares that are crisp on the outside and the inside, soft.  They stay this way even if you leave some and continue to pick.  Best chicken apple sausage split and smoked to taste similar to pork.

* the secret to these puppies is order with jalapenos.  It's off-the-menu.

The coffee is $2.25 and the best part, the waiters bring over a pot and constantly re-fill.

If you're in the area, great custom boots are down a few streets.  Tejas Custom Boots is one of the last real custom shops.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Fork in the Road: My Last Meal at Americas (Post Oak) Houston, TX

It was only proper I have one last meal at Americas after celebrating many birthdays and accomplishments here since high school.  Michael Cordua has been credited with leading the Latin America culinary movement in America and the only Texas chef to be inducted to the "Food & Wine Hall of Fame".  Luckily, he made Houston his home.  Walking in, it feels like a Latin American goth scene; dark walls, furniture and sculpture.  It feels like a Vegas casino, with its decor and lavish ceiling art and lighting fixtures, except interesting.

Parents ordered mixed greens salad....bleh...though the cilantro dressing was good...a little tart, a little creamy, green goddess with cilantro.  I opted for Ahi Tuna ceviche and was skeptical given the amount of ingredients (roasted peanut, jícama, cilantro, crispy onion, citrus ponzu); it easily could have been without the peanut and onion, but I enjoyed it very much.
I had to have my staple at the Churassco's/Americas restaurants, which is Pollo Encamisado. 
This palliard of plantain crusted chicken sitting on top of black bean sauce with seared panela cheese and crema fresca is delectable.  Heavy, but not in a 'I feel so stuffed' type of way.  Of course, it's better if you don't have an appetizer, but what's the fun in that?  This dish has never disappointed me at Americas or any Churassco's.

Mom - If ever there were a salmon to be ordered, this is it.  Salmon Caliente.  This light, non-fishy grilled atlantic salmon, shrimp ceviche beurre blanc, pico de gallo didn't miss a mark.

Dad - Chileno.  Pan roasted sea bass over polenta spoon bread, sautéed spinach, and habanero beurre blanc.  The beurre blanc has the habanero taste, but not the heat, which is nice for for fish. 

All and all, was a great farewell to the Post Oak location (now in its final couple weeks of operation).  Cordua has since opened a bustling River Oaks location. 

p.s.  the plaintain chips with dipping sauces are my fav starter!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Reason to Not Dining on 6th Street - Banjara

After perusing through many reviews of Banjara and being mostly positive, we tried this Curry Lane restaurant on a beautiful Thursday evening. We sat outside, and surprisingly without traffic and noise as you would think the East Village has.


We begin with chicken samosas. They are soft and curry-spiced, but lack any moisture   


Chicken madras - see those chilis to the right? There was none of that (spiciness) going on in the dish.


Lal Mas - lamb with chilis. See the deep redness of the dish? Yep, no spiciness in this either.


Chicken & mushrooms in herbed cream
Everything was bland and did not have a hint of spicy even in the 'spicy' dishes.  At least the naan and dipping sauces were decent.  Too bad!
97 1st Avenue @6th Street  (212) 477-5956

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Fork in the Road: New Orleans, LA

Highlights from last year's trip with friends....

Day 1, Friday - We arrived very late, Acme was close to the hotel and only an average beginning.

Fried Pickles

Red beans & rice - my FAVORITE NOLA dish!

Blackened Alligator w. tartar sauce

Day 2, Saturday - Mother's, an historical NOLA establishment known for their long lines at breakfast (po-boys are also known) and friendly staff, but fair's a tourist trap.

 Plain 'ole fried eggs, grits, sausage and a side of divine biscuits

The Divine biscuits with homemade jam which Edna bought us upon our NYC return 

Plain waffle with hot syrup (not pictured)

Crawfish omelet with grits
Stick with the 'plain 'oles'.  The crawfish omelet's sauce was too watery and too fishy at 9am.                                                     
Day 3, Sunday

On a sweltering New Orleans summer day, we set out for Rampart Food Store on the outskirt of the French Quarter.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, it was closed (think Sunday church in NOLA) so we hoofed it to Frenchman Street.  Our walk took us to Praline Connection.  Here there were families dressed in their 'Sunday best' and dining family style on Cajun-Creole Soul Food. 

Fried Okra
Chicken Livers with Hot Pepper Jelly

'A Taste of Soul Platter'
File Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, Jambalaya, Greens, Fried Chicken, Ribs, Catfish Strips and Bread Pudding

The above was much smaller than it sounds and was a great amount to split between 4 gals.  The okra and livers were perfectly fried and the platter, while tasty, had heavier frying.  There was nothing truly notable except the bread pudding, which was exceptional. 
Day 3, Monday - Edna and I make it to Rampart Food Store.  Located in the back of a bare convenience store, it is completely run by Chinese.  And BOY, do they know how to make a po-boy.  What makes you salivate over these bad boys, is the seafood being fried tempura-style (light breading).  They don't dress the sandwich with tartar or cocktail sauce, just the typical ketchup and mayo.  We couldn't get down the block, before we sat on a neighborhood stoop and started.  If you have the time, make it to is worth it! 

Acme  724 Iberville Street (504) 522-5973

Mother's  401 Poydras Street (504) 523-9656
The Praline Connection  542 Frenchman Street (504) 943-3934